Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol drives between Boston Celtics Brandon Bass and Celtics Jermaine O'Neal in the first half of their NBA basketball game at TD Garden in Boston

Celtics-Lakers: 5 Things to Watch

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With the Lakers and Celtics renewing their epic rivalry this afternoon, it’s time to look ahead at what we’re witnessing when the two face-off at Staples Arena at 3:30 p.m. EST. It’s the NBA’s oldest, best, and most celebrated rivalry and despite the turning point both teams are facing in their history. Here are five things to watch today when the Lakers host the Celtics.

1. End of an Era: This is the end of Lakers-Celtics 2000’s. A rivalry reborn in 2008 when they met in the Finals, a series famous for a dramatic Lakers collapse, Paul Pierce’s wheelchair episode which Lakers fans hold onto like a pitbull with flank steak, and the celebration of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in their first championship. The rivalry took a year off, most believe due to a Kevin Garnett knee injury which ended his season in April. And then of course the 2010 re-match, a Lakers victory famous for Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury which gave the Celtics their out card, Ron Artest’s biggest play as a Laker, and a big revenge game for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But it’s a near-lock these teams will not look the same next year.

Even if the Lakers keep their core, the Celtics are very unlikely to keep both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. There will be changes. The rivalry will sustain, but you should enjoy this last meeting between two behemoths that have defined the NBA over the past five seasons.

2. Mentally Unstable: Both teams are suffering from the strain of the trade deadline. The Lakers are constantly under a haze of rumors. The Celtics’ management has been proactive in getting the word out that their players are not actively being shopped. True or not, it changes how they’re behaving. They’re smart enough to know they could still be traded, but it makes them feel a little better. The Lakers meanwhile are having team meeting after team meeting to try and move past that pressure. Its’ not a good situation.

3. Bad Blood Is Fun: Paul Pierce and Metta World Peace know each other. They know most everything about each other. And yet they will have the same battle they’ve had for years. Artest will battle and body him. Pierce will draw fouls and create space. This game could hinge on which Pierce shows up. If it’s the tired, worn-out Pierce that can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, it could get bad. If it’s the Pierce that loves beating the Lakers and has been showing up over the past month, this game is going to be tight, exciting and primed for a dose of the Truth.

4. Being Taller Is Better: Kevin Garnett plays center at times. Chris Wilcox has been out, Brandon Bass is a stretch four in the purest sense. Stiemsma is not a good matchup. The Lakers have the tallest and arguably best frontcourt in the league. The Celtics are going to have to swarm them immediately in the post and hope to create a bad night for them.

5. Which Masked Mamba?: Kobe Bryant is everything for everyone this season. Scoring 40 points, averaging 30-ish. Shooting a ton. Getting Bynum involved at times. Ignoring him at others. Hitting incredible shots. Missing stupid shots. (Hint: they look the same.) If the Celtics-killing, jaw-jutting, most-dangerous-man-in-the-game shows up, the Celtics might as well pack it in and go home. If the gunning, turnover-prone, reminder-of-age shows up, the Celtics could exploit the Lakers’ tendencies and run away on the road. There’s no way to stop Kobe. You just have to hope the bad version shows up.

PBT Podcast: Derek Fisher fired, plus your trade questions from Twitter

Derek Fisher
Associated Press
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Derek Fisher is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

In this latest podcast, NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman discuss the odd timing of that move — we expect another shoe to drop as to why. It’s not that Fisher was a great coach, but replacing him with Kurt Rambis mid-season is not an upgrade. And Luke Walton isn’t available until this summer.

After struggling to figure out what the Knicks are thinking, Helin and Feldman answer questions off Twitter from readers/listeners on the coming trade deadline including discussions of Blake Griffin, Jeff Teague, the Pistons, the Jazz, the Knicks, and more.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Warriors’ center Festus Ezeli to have knee surgery, out indefinitely

Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli, left, of Nigeria, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Denver. Golden State won 118-105. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Associated Press
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Festus Ezeli has been a rock-solid backup for the Warriors this season, playing almost 18 minutes a night behind Andrew Bogut giving the team 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a contest. Golden State’s defense is 3.6 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and he’s part of the team’s long-term plans.

But he’s going to be out for a while now following knee surgery, the team announced and as reported by Monte Poole at CSNBayArea.com.

http://www.csnbayarea.com/warriors/festus-ezeli-undergo-knee-surgery

The surgery is exploratory, which is why the Warriors say there is no timeline for recovery yet.

The surgery is on his left knee; it was his right one that had reconstructive surgery and forced him to miss all of two seasons ago.

This is a blow to the Warriors’ depth, but little has slowed their march this season. More Mo Speights is not ideal, but the Warriors can just go small more often and run teams out of the building that way.

Ezeli is a restricted free agent this summer and the Warriors would like to keep him on the roster and expand his role, particularly if they do not retain Andrew Bogut. The severity of this knee injury could impact Ezeli’s ability to earn a big contract this summer, but hopefully for him, it’s not that serious.

Russell Westbrook stands behind Kevin Durant, mimics him during interview (video)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, right, gestures after scoring as forward Kevin Durant stands by during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won 117-113. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Choose your spin.

This is why Kevin Durant is leaving the Thunder. Russell Westbrook doesn’t respect him.

or

This is why Kevin Durant is re-signing with the Thunder. He and Russell Westbrook have so much fun together.

Report: Magic open to talking Tobias Harris trade, looking to add experience

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) grabs the uniform of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic just last summer.

Now, just 50 games later…

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I’m skeptical this is significant. Teams discuss trades for many players for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the player is likely to be dealt.

Orlando in particular has a roster of players who cause significant debate about their value. It’s helpful to know what other teams think of Harris, and soliciting trade offers is a good method to learn his worth.

It’s more intriguing the Magic are looking to add experience. They should probably go the opposite route, but they’ve tried (and failed) for years to accelerate their rebuild. At 22-28 – four games and three teams from playoff position – now is not the time to seek shortcuts. Spend the rest of the season developing young players – and probably securing a higher draft pick in the process.

One of Harris’ best traits is his youth. He’s just 23. See what other teams would offer for him, sure. But, in all likelihood, it’s better to let him grow into the veteran Orlando needs rather than trading him for one when the rest of the team isn’t ready to win, anyway.

My guess is that’s what Orlando will do. Remember, always consider who has incentive to leak this information anonymously and what they’d be positioned to know.